Tuesday, July 5

Cock Therapy – Salford Arts Theatre

Mining therapy sessions for rich drama is not easy. Good stories require therapist characters to play the antagonist and progress the plot. However, in real life, counsellors are generally too passive and neutral meaning believable roles can result in dull tales. So, it’s a definite risk for writer Joe Henry to set his first ever play on the psychiatrist’s couch. For the most part, it’s a risk that pays off.

Roz (also played by Henry) believes he is a sex addict. After being dropped off by his dad, our lead enters with a reticence that anyone who has experienced doubts part way through a course of therapy will recognise.

After a hilarious opening monologue, Roz is joined by The Therapist (Nicholas Eccles). Over the course of the next 50 minutes or so, layers of Roz’s personality and addiction are peeled away – attempting to bring us closer to the painful truth that led to the need for counselling.

Numerous fourth wall-breaking asides prevent this from becoming a bog-standard two-hander. Video projections, representing Roz’s repressed memories, satisfyingly foreshadow what’s to come and deliver moments of proper visual humour. It’s a shame, then, that the projections direct the audiences’ gaze away from the characters to a wall at the side of the stage. It would feel so much more impactful to see them front and centre on the curtain behind our cast.

Spending some time in Roz’s company is the best thing about Cock Therapy. Despite apparent nerves, Henry’s performance is more than credible throughout. His in-character response to a mobile going off is perfect. A decision to deliver Shakespeare’s ‘O Happy Dagger’ speech from Romeo and Juliet whilst wielding a colourful dildo is masterful. When Roz visibly crumbles, the audience really feels his pain. You would be forgiven for not realising this was his first attempt at playwriting.

Unfortunately, though, Roz’s damascene realisation feels contrived. The actions and words of the unnamed therapist character just don’t quite ring true. A genuinely shocking revelation feels thrown away. That’s a shame because it feels like a dramatically interesting reason for Roz’s actions and an opportunity to present a complex character, rather than just a victim. It also feels like this story would be better and more honestly served with Henry playing both roles over several therapy sessions.

It’s always so much more satisfying to see dramatists attempt something risky than not to try at all. Cock Therapy isn’t perfect but it’s an admirable and enjoyable attempt at tackling an important, queer story from a first-time playwright. That is to be applauded.

Playing until the 28th September https://manchester.ssboxoffice.com/events/cock-therapy/  

Reviewer: Peter Ruddick

Reviewed: 27th September 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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